I was surprised at how refreshed I felt this morning despite the rough night. It was 'La Dia de Los Muertes' (the day of the dead) and the first thing to do after breakfast was to find a mass, which was happening in every church in town. We happened to have breakfast right next to the New Cathedral. I was thankful that the Catholic mass is the same all over the world, so it is easy to know when to sit, when to stand, when to say the Lord's prayer and when to kneel, and when to shake that hands of those around you. I felt entirely comfortable despite understanding very little of it. I expected there to be differences because it was the day to celebrate ones' deceased loved ones, but it felt like a usual mass. Except that the cantor strummed the guitar and sounded Andean, but that made sense to me. I wanted to find a cemetery and to see more of the celebration. Amparo had told me that her family goes to mass at 8 in the morning and then to the cemetery to honour their father, who had died about ten years ago. The family goes to his grave and clean it and paint his name more clearly, and leave flowers for him. Once home, the family prepares a special meal, which includes a soup with 'harina de aves' with 'churros' or 'caracoles' ( 'una soap especial' for 'el dia de los muertes'). Everything else is fried, with rice, fried bread, fried plantains, fried meat, and fried eggs. Colada morada (the special drink that is made for this occasion) is made with harina de maize negro, fruits, agua con te de canela and calvo de alor and anise, plantas verdes , hierba luisa, manzanilla, y planta rojo ( this is all mixed and sits for a day or two ahead of time), added to jugo de mora (blackberries) and murtillo (blueberries), sugar and panela moreno (brown cane sugar), pineapples, babaco, and frutillas and manzana (Amparo does not like to add the manzana). The whole combination is cooked and served hot with guaguas de pan. The family eats and converses and spends the day together. The loss of their father still brings tears to her eyes.
Eric had a grant review to download at an internet cafe, and Maya wanted to play online, so I wandered through Cuenca. There is a huge art festival (Bienal de Cuenca) happening at various venues throughout the city with participants from throughout the world. Exhibits are everywhere. I wandered into a beautiful colonial building housing mannequins in designs of several Ecuadorian artists. I remembered that at the Banco Central we had seen some video&performance art presentations, as well as a video presentation of a man praying in the snow in Usbekistan at the convent museum. I found my way to the Modern Art Museum today to find all sorts of interesting modern art, from paintings which I could relate to, to video installations I could not understand, and massive collections of stuff which an Ecuadorian artist filled a room with and it took far too much time to go through all the items and make sense of them all. Later when I met Maya and Eric, we found another interesting installation, which was a huge enterprise wherein a group of artists dug up an area and created what looked like an archeological dig with huge toys half excavated. The artists were trying to show that children are no longer playing with yo-yos and jacks and tops and hopscotch, instead they are using videogames and handheld electronic devices and the toys of the past are buried away. It was a fun exhibit.
I found my way into a hat factory and decided that I must have a Panama hat. The process of hat making is far more complicated than one can imagine, and the amount of work that is required is rather astonishing. Later both Maya and I bought our Panama hats, but bought inexpensive ones. I remember that the last time I was in Cuenca with Eric's students one of them spent over a hundred dollars (they go up to throusands of dollars!) for a hat and was devastated when it got wet and disfigured. Apparently you can iron them back into shape, but the hat looked so sad and misshapen, it was hard to imagine that it could ever go back to the way it was.
Tonight was a day before Cuencan Independence Day, so it was time to celebrate. There were several stages set up for 'Bandas de Pueblo' and 'Juegos Pirotechnico'. Ecuadorians love their music and their fireworks. 'Castillos' several metres high were carefully constructed, designed to progressively set off bigger and bigger fireworks. I stayed in the main square, where acrobatics and dancing and music were presented, often several events going on at once. Instead of a 'castillo', the aerial dancer writhed in the midst of fireworks going off in all directions. The dancers too were framed by fireworks and sparklers and smoke and noise. The crowd would squeeze closer and closer to the stage until the fireworks suddenly set off and everyone would scatter and try to avoid injury. The fireworks became more and more spectacular as the evening progressed. I am wondering what is in store for us tomorrow!